Yesterday, I called my mother and I told her, “feliz cumpleaños de tu patria.” On February 27, 1844, the Dominican War of independence between Haiti and Dominican Republic was initiated. The Dominicans won and became independent. February 27 is celebrated yearly and is considered an important part of Carnival. I find it interesting and almost amazing that I am writing a review for Fior E. Plasencia’s bilingually fluid poetry collection, Para Cenar Habrá Nostalgia the day after Dominican Independence Day while in upstate New York. I wonder how different the feeling might be if I were to write this review during the Fourth of July. Plasencia’s collection is about a woman born in the Dominican Republic that moves to the United States and the internal/external identity crisis that comes with being an immigrant to the States.
As I said before, this collection is bilingually fluid, but before this review is to continue I must define the term “bilingually fluid.” To be bilingually fluid is to move from one language to another without it being jarring and Plasencia does exactly this. She is able to move from Spanish to English and English to Spanish without losing meaning in between. In the poem “Dilema Mío,” she writes, “’I don’t care si ahora tendré que memorize all the native American chiefs/ la hipocresía de la great depression, NASA, the terms of the/ president, la Constitución…/ Sus víctimas y sus zozobras” (18). The Spanish isn’t jarring in those lines because they work with the English words and vice versa. But at the same time the English words could not sustain themselves without the Spanish words. Both languages are helping each other out and this is a clear example of what it means to be bilingually fluid.
But the most important reason why I consider Plasencia’s writing to be bilingually fluid is that her collection is not just a stereotypical Spanish-English collection. Plasencia’s poetry doesn’t fall into the cliché left page is Spanish and right page is English. There is almost no poem that is written only in English, or a poem written only in Spanish. Even if there is a poem that is written in only one of the languages, there are still themes that make that poem bilingual. One example of this is in the poem, “Curve of your eyes.” There are no Spanish words in this poem, but there are still Spanish themes or objects in the poem. Although lines like “brought us here in three Spaniard ships,” and “a Dominican palm tree with long feathers” are written in English, the images of Spaniard ships and a Dominican palm tree are inherently Spanish because of the history of Spanish colonization in the Caribbean, especially in the Dominican Republic (76).
Plasencia tackles many themes in Para Cenar Habrá Nostalgia. There are themes of Homosexuality and Dominican Machismo in the poems “Palomo” and “Gokú Dominicano.” Both of these poems explore what it means to be a gay man, or just a man in general, in a Dominican American society. Then there is the theme of what it means to be a Dominican American woman in poems like “Rolos Mal Hecho,” “Verbo Mujer,” and “Morena en Exilio/Dark Skinned Woman in Exile.” These poems explore themes like what good hair is, what it means to be a woman as a verb, and what it means to be a dark-skinned woman. Plasencia also tackles issues of race and identity in poems like “Morena en Exilio/Dark Skinned Woman in Exile,” “Nostalgia & Guayaba,” “Vakano Tío,” “Espaldas Marrones/Brown Backs,” and “Mundos Opuestos.”
Although Plasencia handles all of these themes well, the theme that I believe she handles better is race and identity. There are several layers of race and identity in this poetry collection and this is what makes it so compelling. For example, there is identity as an immigrant and what it means to be an immigrant in the United States. There is also the layer of what it means to be Dominican and beyond that there is the theme of what it means to be Dominican with a dark complexion. And even more beyond that there is the theme of what it means to be a dark-skinned Dominican in the United states. With all these layers and more of race and identity, one would think that it would be too much for ninety-seven pages, but Plasencia handles each layer with the respect and attention that they deserve.
Para Cenar Habrá Nostalgia es muy importante, especialmente para los jóvenes Quisqueyanos que viven en los Estados Unidos. Esta colección es la respuesta a la pregunta de qué significa ser un inmigrante Dominicano en los Estados Unidos. Más que nadie, recomiendo esta obra de Fior E. Plasencia a los Dominicanos que tienen preguntas sobre sus identidades y sobre su raza. Pero esto no quiere decir que alguien que no es Dominicano no podría conectarse con esta colección, porque los temas de Para Cenar Habrá Nostalgia son temas que cada ser humano conoce o ha sentido.
Reviewed by: Diego Barcacel Peña